The Two Colonels from "C" Coy

This article appeared in the April 1986 The Battalion Remembers II booklet.      

The Two Colonels from "C" Coy

39620 Lieutenant-Colonel Kingi Areta Keiha MC MID was the first soldier of "C" Coy to become the most senior officer of the Battalion.

Reta was born in Gisborne, 1900, and died comparatively young in 1961. He came from a distinguished family and was a direct descendant of Riperata Kuhutia, a leading Chieftainess who had close association with the early settlement of Gisborne. He was a leader of Rongowhakaata and closely related to the Aitanga-a-Mahaki and the Aitanga-a-Hauiti people.

He was a member of the original Maori Contingent assembled at Palmerston North in June 1940 and proceeded overseas as Second Lieutenant in 28th (Maori) Bn with which he served until 1944. As a Major he commanded "C" Coy, became a 2 I/C of the Battalion and in April 1943 took over command from Colonel Bennett who was severely wounded at Takrouna. In 1942 he was awarded the Military Cross.

GOVERNMENT HOUSE DOMINION OF NEW ZEALAND Extract from supplement to the London Gazette of 3rd November, 1942

War Office 5th November 1942

THE KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the Middle East: The Military Cross. Captain Kingi Areta Keiha (39620), New Zealand Military Forces Award of the Military Cross to Captain Kingi Areta Keiha, 28th Maori Battalion, 2nd NZEF

Copy of Citation

"During the attack upon the Deir el Munassib depression on the night of 3rd/4th September, this officer commanded the company which provided protection for the battalion until the final assault was made. The company met with resistance from enemy strong positions over a distance of 3,500 yards but overcame the enemy, thus enabling the main force to move up to its forming up line with very little interference. Captain Keiha prepared for his difficult task well and executed it excellently. At all times he inspired, controlled and directed his men under heavy machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire and it was largely due to his leadership that the whole operation was successful."

Colonel Keiha was a painstaking commander and good companion. His command was marked by the great interest he had in his men in whose welfare he took keen interest and was active in all matters and movements for their betterment. This genuine interest in people was repeated after his return to New Zealand. Though too young for active service in World War I and so not by service qualified to be a member of Hokowhitu-a-Tu, he was, nevertheless, elected to membership and appointed a trustee of that association.

Included in his many activities of service were: Maori Soldiers Trust, 28 (Maori) Bn National Association, President Gisborne Branch, Maori Representative Gisborne RSA, Tairawhiti Maori Assoc, and numerous Trust Boards and management committees of blocks and incorporations. He was a member of Rotary and life member of Poverty Bay Golf Club.

A large number of the Battalion assembled at Makaraka cemetery for the service at which a memorial stone was unveiled to Lieutenant-Colonel Kingi Areta Keiha, MC, a worthy leader of 28 (Maori) Bn.

39636 Arapeta AWATERE Lieutenant-Colonel DSO MC was born at Waitotoki, Tuparoa, on 25 April 1910. He was a descendant of Tuwhakairiora of Ngati Porou fame. Peta attended Te Aute College 1925-1927 where after he joined the staff of the Maori Affairs Department. Commissioned in New Zealand, Pita Awatere was posted to the Battalion after it returned to Egypt after the campaign in Greece and Crete. He soon made a name for himself as an Intelligence Officer at both battalion and brigade level.

During the 1942-43 fighting in the desert Captain Awatere commanded successively both D and C companies and it was while he was in command of C Coy at Point 209 that he was awarded the Military Cross.

When the Battalion crossed to Italy Pita Awatere was OC HQ Coy and when Russell Young moved from 2 I/C Battalion to CO Awatere became 2 I/C and was promoted to Major.

It was during the Italian campaign that Pita Awatere demonstrated his extraordinary abilities as a commander and a leader. He assumed command of the Battalion when Young returned to New Zealand on furlough November 18, 1944 and relinquished command in June 1945 when he himself joined a furlough draft.

Lieut-Colonel Awatere was awarded an immediate DSO after the battle for Faenza in December 1944. The award was in recognition of his skilful handling of his resources and his inspiring leadership.

On his return home Pita Awatere rejoined the Department of Maori Affairs and served in several districts as a welfare officer. He was active, very active as anybody who knew him in the army would expect, in all community concerns - he gave his personal support to innumerable undertakings. He was an instructor in the haka and action song as well as being an Auckland City Councilor.

His life was amazing, his passing was tragic, we buried him on a hill overlooking the sea at Tuparoa.

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